Midtown Global Market boosts local business
Danielle Gooderum's Fresco's Pasta Bar brings something new to MGM. Take the tour...
Benjamin Carter Grimes
For local budding restaurateurs, food trucks still dominate as the most popular alternative to bricks and mortar, but within the walls of the Phillips neighborhood's crown jewel of retail, there's another, lower-risk option that savvy hopefuls are taking advantage of. "For me it was a no-brainer," says Danielle Gooderum, owner of Fresco's Pasta Bar, one of the newest stalls in the Midtown Global Market. "I had my catering business for six years and had been renting commercial kitchen space along the way. I knew I wanted to have a restaurant of my own and still be able to take catering jobs, but I didn't have the money to invest in all the equipment I needed. MGM was the only option I knew about where I could have the best of both of those worlds."
Gooderum and her build-your-own pasta concept join an ever-growing list of casual, high-quality dining options at the market. With cuisine ranging from tortas to banh mi sandwiches to patty melts, diversity is king here, and as MGM market manager Earlsworth Baba Letang explains, it's one of the main things MGM's board considers when evaluating a new applicant. "We have to think about what is already here and what will help us to round out the types of vendors we have," says Letang. "If someone comes to us with a concept very similar to something we already have in the market, it's unlikely that we would give them the go-ahead to move forward in the process."
This vetting and careful curation is part of what Gooderum says makes MGM such a tight-knit community. "Personally, I don't really feel a lot of competition with other vendors," she admits. "For one, I feel like everyone is in the same boat as me and we like to help each other out. Secondly, aside from a few things at Jakeeno's — who really focuses more on their pizza — I'm really the only one doing pasta." In addition to made-to-order, customer-created chopped salads and pasta dishes with endless combinations of noodles (including some gluten-free options), sauce, protein, and vegetables, Fresco's menu features dishes like polpetta, classic Italian meatballs in a slightly acid-leaning marinara sauce; a rendition of chicken carbonara that was rich but a little bland; super creamy pancetta macaroni and cheese that feels like a grown-up guilty pleasure; and one of Gooderum's most popular combinations: shrimp, mushrooms, and wicked hot habanero peppers tempered by heavy cream and parmesan cheese.
Though her build-your-own model requires very little kitchen equipment in her actual stall, Gooderum still needs major machinery to bake bread and cook meals for weddings and corporate events for her catering business. "Kitchen in the Market is the shared space where all of us have access to these big ovens and mixers and prep areas you'd need to do a big job like that." It's just one of the many things that MGM provides to vendors, but individual vendors still operate as independent businesses that rent from MGM, and thus must still jump through some hoops with the city. "I'd say it's probably not as tricky as securing all the proper licenses and documents for a food truck," says Gooderum. "But you still have to pay fees, be up to code and pass inspections, and clear your proposal on your own, in addition to going through MGM's process."
So what exactly is that process? Letang explains in it three stages: First there's the concept stage, then a due diligence stage, and finally the leasing stage. "Concept is really important because this is where we see the business plan and make sure the vendor's idea is unique," Letang says. "If that passes, we look at price points, management plans, vendor experience, and how much they have available for the start-up costs, and then we go into the leasing stage." How much a vendor will pay for start-up and rent is very much dependent on the size of the space and nature of the business. Letang says the goal is to get $3 per square foot they rent out, but stalls range from a typical 400-square-foot space to the whopping 3,000-square-foot sit-down restaurant now occupied by the "permanently halted" Well Seasoned project.
"In the past we have made arrangements to charge just a portion of the rent to a vendor until they are able to get on their feet," says Letang. "We want to help them be successful as much as possible."
In addition to Fresco's, another business that recently passed this three-part ringer is Sabbai Cuisine, owned by Cambodian-born Sothy K. Minh, who serves both Thai favorites like a kicky but still traditional pad Thai, red curry, and fiery papaya salad and Cambodian dishes like mee katang, a noodle dish with a sweet, garlicky sauce. Deep-fried, crispy spring rolls and astoundingly cheap cream-cheese wontons round out the list of crowd-pleasers. They do tend to make things authentically spicy, so it's fortunate that Sabbai also sells whole young coconuts wrapped in plastic and punctured to easily get to the cooling juice. Sabbai is right next door to Fresco's, but Letang says where a stall is placed in the market is not determined chronologically, but rather on the equipment needs of that vendor and the stalls MGM has available for rent. As the market continues to expand, space is one thing it has in spades: The Midtown Exchange is the second-largest building in the state in terms of leasable area under a single roof, right after the Mall of America.
So in a way, becoming a vendor at the Midtown Global Market is a little like getting a book deal. The publisher, or in this case MGM, is the one taking the leap of faith in your idea. It takes a huge load off the shoulders of the vendor, but that also means you have to play by someone else's rules. "We have to abide by market hours, so it is hard that, when it's slow and we want to save on labor costs, we can't just close up for the day," says Gooderum. "Similarly, if we wanted to stay open later on a night when we might get a post-event rush or something like that, we can't." But she says the challenges are small by comparison to the benefits. "When I decided to go this route with my business, I really liked the idea that traffic would already be driven there and I'd have a built-in audience."
The market is a favorite for families and great for groups of co-workers looking for a bunch of options for lunch, but if there's one thing that would be sure to draw more visitors to MGM, it's the possibility of a beer garden. "That's something we are just in the very beginning discussion stages of with the board," says Letang. "I can't give any kind of time frame, but we understand that trying to get beer and wine sales going in the market would be great for many of our vendors."
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